This Wednesday: Four tips for surmounting boredom or irritation.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Four tips for surmounting boredom or irritation.

Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

One “little thing” that can be a source of unhappiness is being stuck on a task that’s boring or irritating. Sitting in traffic. Doing laundry. Waiting in a doctor’s office—or worse, having tests done.

The more you focus on your boredom or irritation, the more you’ll amplify that feeling. Here are four tips to “re-frame” the moment; even if you can’t escape a situation, by re-framing your emotions about it, you can transform it.

Put the word “meditation” after the activity that’s bugging you. (This is my invention.) If you’re impatient while waiting for the bus, tell yourself you’re doing “Bus waiting meditation.” If you’re standing in a slow line at the drugstore, you’re doing “Waiting in line meditation.” If you’re cleaning up after Halloween mayhem, you’re doing “Cleaning meditation.” Just saying these words makes me feel very spiritual and high-minded and wise.

Dig in. Diane Arbus wrote, “The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think it’s true.” If something is boring for two minutes, do it for four minutes. If it’s still boring, do it for eight minutes, then sixteen, and so on. Eventually you discover that it’s not boring at all. If part of my research isn’t interesting to me—like the Dardanelles campaign for Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill—I read a whole book about it, and then it becomes absorbing. The same principle holds when doing boring or irritating tasks, like washing dishes.

Take the perspective of a journalist or scientist. Really study what’s around you. What are people wearing, what do the interiors of buildings look like, what noises do you hear? If you bring your analytical powers to bear, you can make almost anything interesting. (Perhaps this is a key to the success of some modern art.)

Find an area of refuge. Have a mental escape route planned. Think about something delightful or uplifting (not your Christmas list!). Or maybe review photos of your kids on your phone (studies show that looking at photos of loved ones provides a big mood boost).

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One way to deal with frustrating moments that involve sitting in front of your computer — waiting on hold to talk to the cable company, for example — is to have a bunch of fascinating blogs on your “Favorites” list or in your RSS line-up. I cruise through a ton of great blogs; some that I always enjoy reading include: Marginal Revolution, Lifehacker, Unclutterer, and Galley Cat.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

A package arrived for me today: proof that keeping my happiness-project resolutions really does make me happier.

People often ask me, “Come on. Has doing your happiness project really made you happier?”

The answer is YES.

Today, for example, I’m very happy because a package arrived in the mail from New Haven, due directly to a convergence of many happiness project resolutions…

Be Gretchen.” I embraced my true interests and passions, including the love of children’s literature, which, for a long time, I denied.

“Reach out,” “Bring people together,” “Spend time with bookish people.” I started a children’s literature reading group.

“Follow my curiosities.” After my children’s literature reading group read Peter Pan, I became very interested in J. M. Barrie, and I read Andrew Birkin’s terrific biography, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. Birkin gives a tantalizingly brief description of a book Barrie made with photographs of his muses, the four Llewelyn boys. Barrie produced just two copies of The Boy Castaway of Black Lake Island, and one copy was lost immediately.

“Take time for adventures.” Having noted that the one extant copy of The Boy Castaways was in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, I made a pilgrimage to New Haven to see it for myself.

Indulge in a modest splurge.” The moment I laid eyes on it, I realized that I HAD to have a copy! Digital images of the entire volume had been made, so I could order my own copy (images can also be viewed online). It was a not-so-modest splurge, actually, but I bought a copy of the book. It arrived today, and it is so fabulous!

“Think big,” “Make time for projects.” Inspired by The Boy Castaways, a very creative friend and I are planning a similar project using our children.

Every single element in this chain of events made me feel happy and energized. I’m so excited to have my very own copy of this book and to be starting an enormously challenging, creative project with a friend and our children.

I am 100% positive that before I started my happiness project and committed to my resolutions, I wouldn’t have started the book group, I wouldn’t have read the Barrie biography, I wouldn’t have traveled out of town to the Beinecke, I wouldn’t have splurged on the book – so it would never have occurred to me to collaborate on an homage to Barrie.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

Irritated while waiting in line for lunch. What’s the one ingredient that could make that irritation vanish?

Yesterday afternoon, I was stuck in a slow-moving line at a soup place.

The two women at the head of the line were taking a long time to make their selections.

“Can I try the Spicy Lentil?” asked one woman. She got her miniature cup of soup, tasted it, and said, “Too spicy! Wow! Ummm, can I try the Spicy Sausage soup?”

The clerk behind the counter was moving more and more slowly. She handed over another miniature cup.

“That’s too spicy, too!” the woman exclaimed.

The clerk shrugged without saying a word, but I could read her mind: “Lady, that’s why the soups are labelled ‘Spicy.’”

I was feeling very proud of myself for not losing my patience at this exchange, but the muttering behind me that suggested that others weren’t being quite so pure and high-minded.

Just then, the woman turned to her friend and said, “Oh, listen to me! I sound just like someone from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Make me stop!” She burst out laughing, and her friend joined in. I couldn’t help laughing, and the people behind me started laughing, too. A moment of impatience and irritability turned into a friendly moment shared by strangers.

Which just goes to show, once more, that the ability to laugh at yourself covers a lot of faults.

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I was very interested to discover a site that a friend pointed me to — Vital Juice Daily, a daily email that gives information on trends and tips about how to live more healthfully. Good stuff.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Boethius.

“Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.” — Boethius

We’ve all heard various version of this observation so many times that it’s hard to appreciate how EXTREMELY true and important it is to happiness.

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Creating Ms. Perfect is great blog that’s very happiness-project-y; Kimberly Palmer is tracking her adventures as she reads women’s advice books to try to figure out what kind of person she wants to be. It reminds me of Jennifer Niesslen’s terrific book, Practically Perfect in Every Way, and blog — except that, even when two people have happiness projects that sound fairly similar, they end up being completely distinct and idiosyncratic. And every one is interesting. Kim posted a Q-and-A with me.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.